Jefferson County TX—The widow of a man who worked at the oil giant Chevron USA has now filed suit against that employer, claiming that the company acted with malice and gross neglect in exposing her husband to the toxic material asbestos, which caused the mesothelioma that killed him.
Betty Lou Cunningham alleges that the death of her husband Billy was as a result of his employment with Gulf Oil, where he used and was exposed to toxic materials including asbestos. According to the lawsuit, “As a result of such exposure, he developed an asbestos-related disease, mesothelioma, for which he died a painful and terrible death on Feb. 11, 2009.” Asbestos was a common industrial material used throughout the 20th Century, mainly for insulation purposes. It is strong, flexible, durable, and an excellent fire-retardant. It is also extremely resistant to high temperatures, making it ideal as an insulator. Moreover, it can be spun into yarn or woven into fabric, so it was often used for protective clothing, fire blankets, electrical insulation and boiler or furnace covers. It can also be mixed with cement or plastics in order to lend its remarkable qualities to those substances.
Mesothelioma develops when the asbestos-containing materials are damaged, thereby releasing into the air a fine particulate dust that is comprised of microscopic fibers. These fibers, which are sharp and needle-like, can be inhaled into the lungs and the thin membrane surrounding the lungs, called the mesothelium. They cannot, however, be exhaled. Once embedded in the mesothelium, they can develop into this deadly cancer. Mesothelioma may not be diagnosed until up to 50 years after the asbestos exposure, so it has often been called a “silent killer.” For this reason, most of the approximately 3,000 patients diagnosed with the disease each year in the United States are elderly. Since it is primarily an occupational disease, many of its victims are also male, but there are increasing numbers of secondhand asbestos exposure cases that have led to mesothelioma, and these are often women. Asbestos use has been more strictly regulated since the 1980s, but it is still present in existing buildings and other structures. Anyone who may have worked around asbestos, or who is involved in the demolition or renovation of a building constructed prior to 1980, should educate themselves about the symptoms and diagnosis of mesothelioma.